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Rev. Mother Mary Frances Ward
Frances Ward was born in Bellbrook House, Abbeyleix, Co. Laois in 1810. She was the youngest of six children, three sons and three daughters. Her mother died shortly after Frances’ birth.
Her father John Ward was a very successful merchant and had secured the house and land lease of 51 acres at Bellbrook. As a Catholic it was most unusual to secure such a lease. In 1819 when Frances was eleven years old John Viscount De Vesci seized on the lease and had it transferred to Sir Robert Staples who held it in trust for Lord De Vesci.
The loss of Bellbrook House meant the break up of the Ward family. The girls went to live with their mother’s family, the Mahers of Killeany, near Mountrath, Co. Laois. By the time Frances was 15, her father, her brother John and her sister, Helen, had died.
From an early age Frances was educated privately and her aunt assumed full responsibility for the young girl’s religious instruction.
In 1826 Frances went to Dublin and lived with friends where she mixed with upper class society. She worked part-time in the poor school house of The Mercy in Baggot Street before taking up permanent residence there in September 1828.
The following January she received the habit of the recently founded Sisters of Mercy in the convent at Baggot Street. She took the name Sister Mary Frances Teresa and was professed on the 24th January, 1833. The congregation had been founded on the 12th December, 1831.
On the 10th April 1837, Sister Mary Frances was appointed superior of the new foundation in Carlow where she established a school for the poor, and the first Mercy Private School. At the request of Dr. Michael O’Connor, Bishop of Pittsburgh, Mother Mary Frances and six other sisters led the first Mercy foundation to the U.S.A. They left Carlow in November 1843, and travelled in secular dress on the Queen of the West from Liverpool, arriving in Pittsburgh on the 21st December. The sisters immediately began work caring for the poor and sick and giving religious instruction.
As a result of her arrival in America, convents were founded at Latrode in 1845, Chicago in 1846 and Loretto in 1848. Mother Mary Frances left to establish a convent in Providence, Rhode Island.
The sisters travelled in secular dress to avoid the hostility of the Anti Catholic – Know Nothing Movement – that fifteen years previously had burned an Ursuline Convent and drove the sisters out of New England. The Mercy convent windows were frequently broken, mud and insults were hurled at the sisters whenever they left the convent and their morality was questioned regularly in the local newspapers.
Mother Mary Frances went to Manchester, New Hampshire in July 1858, where day and night schools were established. In 1859, the sisters began teaching in public schools and received a salary from the city government. The sisters wore secular dress when teaching and attending staff meetings. In 1863 they were allowed wear their religious habit in school.
Fourteen convents were established from Manchestre, New Hampshire, between 1861 and 1883. Two of these were outstanding in forming new convents in Philadelphia (52) and Princeton (15). Mother Frances travelled with the sisters to each new convent and stayed with them for a month. She held the position of Superior from 1837 – 1834 except for 3 years in Manchester, 1880 – 1883.
Mother Mary Frances Ward died on the 17th September, 1884 in Manchester, New Hampshire, and was buried in St. Joseph’s cemetry there. A marble cross is erected over her grave.